by Westside Mingler Rebecca Light
This month at the Westside Lit Mingle, we took on the topic of Writing and Overwhelm. Lori and Laurie framed the discussion from this jump-off point:
We live in a culture of busy and overwhelm, with constant demands on our attention. Within this, how do we find space—both in our calendars and in our psyches—to create?
To start, Lori led the group in a fabulous activity that she learned from Laurie Halse Anderson at an SCBWI workshop: first, write down the five things you care most about in your life. Subsequently, write down the five things that took up most of your time the pervious week. Then compare. This was illuminating!
This exercise is meant to inform, not punish. The simple act of articulating how we spend our time, and what we care about, can help overwhelm drop away. Is there anything that can fall away from how you spend your time to make more room for things you care most about? There were some obvious suggestions, such as cutting back on TV. Laurie Halse Anderson had suggested an interesting idea: stop volunteering. Maybe it’s okay to let someone else save the world in that way so you have time to write your book!
The ensuing discussion was a combination of helpful tips and shared struggles, making two things very clear: First, we are all in this together! And next, in working with overwhelm, there is no golden ticket. For example, writing every day made some minglers feel more overwhelmed, while the same committment helped others prioritize writing in their busy schedules.
Lori spoke about the issue of overwhelm as a large one in our culture right now, and not one unique to writers. The word “busy” has become a form of currency, a shorthand to let the world know that we are important. As a culture, we scoff at leisure time. Perhaps changing the way we speak about it (for example, not using the word “busy”) can help change the feeling of overwhelm.
On the subject of accountability, Laurie shared an anecdote about a writer who would create consequences for missing a deadline. This particular writer was a democrat so she decided that she would donate to Mitt Romney’s campaign for every deadline missed. Accountability indeed!
Alternatively, Greg shared the value of forgiving himself when he isn’t able to write. He prefers to focus on the end goal of getting the task done, rather than on creating a consequence for missing a deadline, which only contribute to his feeling overwhelmed.
Toward the end of the meeting the group touched on the importance of not just writing, but living. This includes how to find time for your loved ones while balancing a day job, a long commute, and a solitary writing habit? Minglers had some great suggestions, such as being creative about places to edit and brainstorm (Standing in line? Jot some notes on your phone!) Or get to work 10 minutes early and use that time to write. Try dedicating two nights a week to writing, the other nights go to your family. Or split the night into an hour or two of writing time, and the rest for family. Most of all, be gentle with yourself. Know that there is a time to write, and there is a time not to write.
Here are links to the books, websites, and resources that minglers suggested during the discussion.
750words.com – Inspired by the morning pages in The Artist’s Way, this website is a writer’s tool to nurture the habit of writing every single day.
Book – Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Blog – Zen Habits by Leo Babauta. This link includes the Stress Assess activity which Laurie handed out in the Mingle.
Book – Tweak It by Cali Williams Yost